Between writing a cookbook, teaching cooking classes and running across the Commonwealth hawking his line of Cowboy Syd’s sauces, it’s surprising chef/owner Syd Meers has time to run his 10-table restaurant in the Port Norfolk section of Portsmouth.
Tucked between the Midtown Tunnel, shipping terminals and London Blvd, this small restaurant on Detroit Street is a delightful experience for all diners.
Although the décor includes an array of taxidermy, Stove, The Restaurant caters to vegetarians as well with their locally sourced and seasonal selections of non-meat dishes. Meers gave the continual reminder of his ability to cater to many dietary restrictions due to the from-scratch nature of his cooking.
When the seasons permit, Stove’s produce is shipped from his personal garden across the street. Meers cultivates his own garden, even bees that ensure pollination in his backyard. He speaks with disdain for the larger foodservice distributors due to their lack of quality and soul in their products. With a focus on soul and homestyle meals, this dining experience has a common theme of winter root vegetables.
Soul is definitely in Meers’ cooking. “If you look in the restroom, the photo of that restaurant is Johnson’s Café, an homage to Winnie Lee.” Winnie Lee Johnson was Syd’s maternal grandmother. Miss Winnie Lee and Pappy, her husband, owned the café in Mississippi where Meers observed his earliest cooking lessons.
As time passed, so did Johnson’s Café. Fate would have Meers’ parents owning a restaurant where Miss Winnie Lee would make the desserts. Working alongside his family is where Meers cultivated his love for cooking and quality ingredients.
One would expect the quality to be lacking in fresh vegetables around Hampton Roads at the end of the winter, yet this meal states otherwise. It begins with a salad course. Arugula, peppered daikon radish, smoked tomatoes and gold beets tossed in a Dijon vinaigrette delicately rest atop crisp romaine leaves. Each ingredient’s flavor comes through, although they all combine to create a sweet and umami sensation.
“I like to play with mustard in the salad. That plus the arugula and you don’t need to add pepper,” states Meers. He adds that the only salt is in the smoked tomatoes, yet there is just the perfect amount of saltiness to amplify the other flavors.
The next course to arrive is a veggie stew in a light milk broth. “This is a play on Asian-style coconut soup broths and Manhattan clam chowder. Purple potatoes, roasted elephant garlic, smoked tomatoes and fresh herbs provide this stew a rainbow of colors. This round of food is a reminder that you are never too old to lick your bowl clean. It is perfect comfort food for a vegetarian, and hearty.
Out of the kitchen following the stew is a vegetarian take on a classic Low Country comfort food, shrimp and grits. Ingredients include various root vegetables, cucumber, and the holy trinity of Creole cuisine atop house-made pimento cheese and heirloom grits.
Meers sources his grits from near where he grew up in Oxford, MS. Even dry, these grits have flavor and are palatable. Cooked and served at Stove they are heavenly. This small company also mills other products such as cornmeal and masa as well as black eyed pea flour for use in the restaurant.
The final course arrived sizzling in a cast iron skillet while we finished up the faux shrimp and grits. Meers stated this article inspired him to create a new vegetarian entrée for the restaurant and use some cast iron skillets he has laying around for a couple uses a year.
The veggie skillet is a sugar dough crust filled with oven roasted tomatoes, fennel, turnips, olives and oyster mushrooms tossed with pimento cheese. There is no added salt or pepper, as Meers allows the quality of the ingredients to flavor his dishes. The sweetness of the sugar dough balances well with the saltiness of the olives. The sugar dough absorbed some of the broth from the stuffing yet held together in the middle and had a consistently caramelized crust.
As an amazing host, Meers created a perfect pairing of red wine for this meal. Atayal Vineyards’ Laya red blend was the star beverage during the meal. This Spanish blended red is crisp and abounds with hearty fruit flavors and upon both the palate and nose. Finishing off the meal, Meers poured neat glasses of Reservoir bourbon, made just up I-64 in Richmond. This bourbon is smooth with oaky and caramel notes that finish on a hint of vanilla. It provides the perfect palate cleanser for an amazing meal.
For the gourmet vegetarian in Hampton Roads, Stove, The Restaurant is a required stop for your dining journey through the region. Vegetarians and meat-eaters alike can enjoy one of the best establishments in the area.
Stove is open Wednesday-Saturday and reservations are strongly encouraged. More information can be found at Stove’s Website (Click Here).